REVIEW: Bad Teacher

10 07 2011

High concept comedies like “The Hangover” and “Horrible Bosses” work because they maintain a level of implausibility and ridiculousness throughout.  In the end, no one is going to get so drunk that they forget marrying a stripper or pulling out a tooth, just like no one is going to get so worked up at work that they execute a plan to murder their boss. Because their humor borders on fantasy, we can laugh despite the incorrectness of it all.

Bad Teacher,” on the other hand, walks on some dangerous ground by presenting its central character with an unflinching realism.  Cameron Diaz’s teacher is a pot-smoking, whiskey-gulping, foul-mouthed, shallow mess that could care less about the kids that she’s getting paid to educate.  Instead, she would rather focus on getting a nice new pair of breasts and a rich man to fondle them.  When she needs money, rather than work hard like a respectable person, she embezzles, cheats, steals, and bribes.

Sadly, this actually happens in the real world; it’s not some cock-and-bull story concocted by some bored screenwriters.  In just the past five years going through private secondary school, I have seen two teachers lose their jobs from accusations of sexual impropriety with a minor and possession of child pornography.  These people are very much real.  Same goes for negligent teachers, which are very prevalent in poorer school districts.  My cousin works in junior high public education (not unlike Diaz’s character) in one of the most at-risk neighborhoods in the country, and I’ve heard too many horror stories from her about the people who work there that don’t even deserve to be called an educator.

There’s nothing funny about the United States falling behind in educating its children.  In fact, experts have called it a “national emergency.”  However, “Bad Teacher” has no sympathy, touting our educational failures as a country in its ad campaign to promote the movie.  There’s a fine line between irreverent humor and just plain tasteless and inappropriate comedy, and Jake Kasdan’s film is standing on the wrong side of it.  Diaz’s Elizabeth Halsey does not deserve to be treated like any other dumb comedy protagonist; she deserves to get justice for her deplorable actions.  And as much as we can chuckle and laugh at her disrespectful behavior, there are plenty of students and parents in this country dealing with real teachers like this … and I doubt they think it’s funny.

If this is supposed to be a satire of the American education system, then its writers clearly failed ninth grade English.  It may expose human folly and error, but “Bad Teacher” doesn’t take Halsey down the path of criticism and ridicule, but rather down the path of a romantic comedy heroine.  She isn’t castigated for her mistakes; instead, she gets revenge on her peppy foe across the hall (Lucy Punch) and realizes she doesn’t want the rich airhead (Justin Timberlake), opting for the dirt-poor gym teacher (Jason Segel) who has the only voice of reason in the movie.  If he’s supposed to be a chorus echoing the thoughts of the satirists, maybe they should have thought twice before making him a stoner.  C / 



2 responses

13 07 2011

This was pretty much a complete fail for me except for Phyllis Smith, Lucy Punch and Jason Segel, who looked like a main character in the trailer but turned out to have about 10 minutes total of screentime. I’ve never been a Cameron Diaz fan, and this movie reminds me why. I wonder how it might have been different if they’d cast someone with actual acting range, like Frances McDormand. Dare to dream, I suppose.

13 07 2011

I would say that Frances McDormand would never stoop that low — but then I bite my tongue and remember she was in the latest “Transformers.” What a shame.

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